With wins over Duke and Virginia – both of which are ranked in the top 15 – Virginia Tech (17-7, 6-6), one could argue, is a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
Well, not quite, especially since the Hokies are tied for eighth in the ACC with Miami (16-8, 6-6) and Georgia Tech (15-10, 6-6).
“I don’t think anybody in the ACC is in yet except for the teams obviously at the top of the conference,” CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I think for the bubble teams in the ACC – normal logic in a year that has metrics like this year would say that any team that is 9-9 in conference play isn’t going to be in the field of 68 on Selection Sunday. But I really think, considering how weak the bubble is this year and considering how minimal the representation will be from conferences like the SEC, the Mountain West, the Atlantic-10 – coupled with how down a year it is in the Big Ten due to injuries – I think there is a legitimate chance that certain teams in the ACC may find a way into the NCAA Tournament with an 8-10 record in league play because the ACC, when you really study the numbers, is the best league in the history of the sport.”
In 2011, the Big East sent a record 11 teams to the field of 68. The ACC could come close to that number in 2017.
“When you really study this ACC, compared to the 2011 Big East, you have to look at the strength of the bottom of the league,” Rothstein said. “In 2011, the bottom four teams of that Big East conference were a combined 3-45 against the 11 teams that made the NCAA Tournament, and one of those wins was when Rutgers beat Villanova on a four-point play in the final seconds. Look at the bottom right now of the ACC. The 14th-place team in the league, NC State, won a game at Duke. Pitt is in 12th place. It’s beaten Virginia. It’s beaten Maryland, who’s a top-20 team, by 14 in College Park. And Pitt beat Marquette, which is in the bracket right now. So top to bottom, if we’re comparing the ACC this year versus the 2011 Big East, it shows that the league top to bottom is stronger.”
Keep in mind that four ACC teams reached the Elite 8 last season: Syracuse, Virginia, North Carolina and Notre Dame.
“The last two years, since the ACC has gone to 15 teams and it’s added Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, the ACC has dominated the NCAA Tournament,” Rothstein said.
While no conference can match the ACC’s depth, the Pac-12 has three legitimate Final Four contenders in No. 5 Arizona (23-3), No. 6 UCLA (23-3) and No. 7 Oregon (22-4).
“Arizona, with Allonzo Trier back in the fold, is a bonafide Final Four contender,” Rothstein said. “A lot of people believe that Sean Miller, other than Tony Bennett, is the best coach in college basketball not to reach a Final Four. UCLA has a transcendent talent at point guard in Lonzo Ball. The Bruins have gotten a lot of flak for their lack of defensive prowess, but when push comes to shove, they’re 23-3 and they’ve got the best player in the sport at point guard.”
And then there’s Oregon.
“If today was Selection Sunday, the team right now that I think I would pick to win a national championship would be the Oregon Ducks because of their balance and because of their star power with Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey,” Rothstein said. “When Tyler Dorsey scores the ball at a high level, Oregon, to me, is the team that might have the highest ceiling in college basketball.”